An important decision faces We the People.
Will we continue to stand as a nation built on principle? Or will we float aimlessly in a sea of pragmatism?
The founders of this great Republic built it upon specific principles, with individual liberty as the bedrock. From their experience, they understood and feared concentrated government power.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington
So, they formed the Republic built on principles designed to protect individual liberty and private property – a system intended to strictly limit federal power. Thus, the Constitution separates powers, seeking to ensure no one person or branch holds too much sway. And it enumerates the specific powers of the federal government, leaving all other power to the states and the people. The Tenth Amendment reaffirms the intent of the framers.
But many today are more than willing to abandon these bedrock principles for the allure of pragmatism.
A conversation on recent comments by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) regarding the scope of federal power allowed by the commerce clause reveals the temptation to abandon principles in search of easy solutions to daunting problems.
Initially, the individual I was talking to defended the government’s constitutional authority to mandate citizens buy insurance. But as I explained the framer’s intent and pointed him to clear proof articulated in their writings, he quickly realized he was losing ground on that line of argument. So he fell back to his default position, which went something like this: our health care system is a mess and we must fix it, therefore we should be willing to stretch the Constitution to accommodate these important fixes for the good of the people.
Pragmatism over principle.
I can’t argue that the U.S. health care system doesn’t have problems. But I will argue to my grave that the federal government is not the place to address those problems. It’s a matter rightly left for each individual state to address as it sees fit.
Progressives like Yarmuth and my friend see only the possible good in expansive federal government. They see solutions to problems. They see the U.S. becoming a better place. They see people getting help they need. But they fail to anticipate the great danger inherent in allowing federal power to expand beyond its intended scope.
“Because people will be required to carry minimal health insurance, the government is going to do all kinds of horrible things? I don’t agree and I don’t see it that way,” my friend said.
But those who framed the Constitution DID see it that way, and they created a system to keep government’s tendency toward tyranny in check. Gerald Ford eloquently articulated the danger nearly 200 years later.
“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
Once we allow government expanded powers, reasoning that we do it for the common good, how do we stop it when someone decides to use that power for nefarious purposes? Because when we leave the barn door open for the horses, the pigs will surely follow.
How can we argue that the elasticity of the Constitution allows for an expanded understanding of the commerce clause, giving the feds virtually unlimited power, but then stand on the Constitution to protect an absolute right, such as free speech, the freedom to worship or the right to marry whomever we choose?
In short, we cannot.
For a Constitution that doesn’t mean what it says means nothing at all.